A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
I’m making with the exclamation points this time out. It’s that kind of week.
Wodehouse! I read two of the novels contained in the collection Just Enough Jeeves (I’m holding off on the stories in Very Good, Jeeves until I’ve read more from Wodehouse, as Wodehouse’s preface to said stories indicates that certain books should be read beforehand; Wodehouse also provides a script for those seeking to order his books in either English or French, which is a nice touch.) This was my first foray into Wodehouse’s body of work, and I’m impressed: witty and smart and featuring some of the best character names I’ve encountered in a while. I’m not sure if my next foray into his work will continue with the Jeeves & Wooster books, or if I’ll opt for A Bounty of Blandings… And I’m also finding Isaac Chotiner’s Atlantic piece on Wodehouse to be fascinating reading. (Thanks to Gabrielle Gantz for the heads-up on it.)
Essays! Specifically, Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation and Mark Dery’s I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Essays on American Dread, American Dreams. Both are fantastic; I’d read a lot of the pieces collected in Bissell’s book when they first appeared, but it’s great to have them in one place; that Bissell can write sympathetically about contentious factions in the circa-2000 literary scene, the economic anxieties of Michigan, and the importance of video game voice actors is a fine indication of his range. Dery’s book is similarly wide-ranging, and includes a smart take on the defanging of Mark Twain, explorations of Borg slash fiction, and hallucinatory takes on American gun culture. Both are definitely worth your time — illuminating and entertaining in equal measure.
Also: comics! The fifth collection of Brian Wood’s Northlanders, Metal and Other Stories, is pretty terrific. Like some of the other Northlanders stories (The Cross and The Hammer comes to mind), the basic plot of “The Girl In The Ice” — in this case, a solitary man finds the body of a murder victim, and becomes obsessed — could be transposed to almost any location over hundreds of years. (Which, I think, is Wood’s point; he’s placing familiar stories in unfamiliar locations.) And the title story is horrific and surreal and amazing, focusing on a blacksmith whose religious devotion manifests itself via the ingestion of psychedelic mushrooms and the burning of churches. Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny’s Supergod weds a deconstruction of superhero mythology with a deeply cynical reading of circa-now geopolitics. (Plus: creepy fungus-gods.) And Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s The Red Wing is an interestingly structured book, full of time travel, parallel timelines, looping iterations of technology, and fractured father/son bonds. It’ll take some re-reading to see if all the nifty structural things Hickman is pushing for actually come off, but: so far, I’m impressed.
Sorry: make that I’m impressed!
To paraphrase the Monkees: “And then I started using comiXology™ / Now I’m a belieeeeeever [in digital comics]!” Holy cats, is this app awesome. It’s essentially just an iTunes for comic books (meaning it’s not great for independent comics shops, which is a moral quandary I need to sort out for myself), and it has an incredible selection, great search/browse capabilities, and insanely great iPhone integration. That last part is what I was most skeptical about for a long time — after all, how can you fit a good comic on a goddamn smartphone? But each issue is uniquely digitized in such a way as to guide the reader across a page (panel to panel, including individual sections of the larger panels) through simple tapping. To be honest, it’s a more exciting and cinematic way of reading a comic than almost anything I’ve ever experienced. Seriously, just download something (if you’re looking for a recommendation, I particularly enjoyed the way “Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man” was digitized) and give it a whirl. You’ll fall in love with the medium all over again.
Unrelated: ah, the agony of dull nonfiction. It’s left me depressingly stuck in the middle of too many tomes right now. Steve Coll’s Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power is the heftiest one, and Christ almighty is it a snooze. This just in: oil companies are morally questionable and have an outsized influence on government! Bluh. Ahmed Rashid’s Pakistan on the Brink is much brisker, but equally non-revelatory (hey, did you know that the Pakistani government is unstable, divided, and potentially dangerous to American interests? Whodathunkit, right? Oy gevalt). But I’ve also just started Drew Gilpin Faust’s fantastic This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. I’m hardly 15 pages in and it’s already more informative than anything else I’ve been trying lately. Fingers crossed, everyone!
Besides spending some quality time with Bob’s Burgers on my Netflix queue (omg Louise), I’ve been spending some time with I Want My MTV, the oral history by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum that came out last year. Though I heard a lot about the book when it first came out, I didn’t know it only focused on the first decade. But then again, most of the Real World / Hills / Jersey Shore and beyond has been well-chronicled in every glossy mag.
A book I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is Miranda July’s It Chooses You. July called up different people who were selling goods in the PennySaver catalog in LA (a classifieds newspaper) and asked them if she could interview them and pay them for their time. She talks to them about what they’re trying to sell and meets a couple of creepy people along the way, though most people come off as normal. She uses the project as a time filler as she struggles with a movie script–but what it really reveals is a subculture of “have-nots” who have not embraced the Internet. It’s a quick read and oddly compelling.
I started rereading Rich Cohen’s books for my upcoming conversation with him on June 27th at Community Bookstore in Park Slope. I’ve been an admirer of Cohen’s for years for both his writing and because I think he’s the only other Jew from the neighborhood I grew up in. Started with Tough Jews, getting to his memoir, rounding out to Sweet and Low, and giving a reread to his upcoming The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King.
Read two fantastic pieces this week: David Grann’s “The Yankee Comandante” in this week’s New Yorker was fantastic, and Amy Wallace’s GQ piece on D’Angelo was stunning. Wallace wrote the sort of big magazine music piece I’d love to see more often, and now I’m really curious to hear what D’Angelo will do next in his career. I personally think it was the best piece of music writing I’ve read so far in 2012.
This week I indulged in a lot of catching up from my vacation, so I didn’t get to focus too long on any one book. John Fante kept tempting me, but I didn’t get too far with him because of work and getting back into the groove of things. But I found this older Charles D’Ambrosio essay that was new to me. It’s full of travel and regrets:
As a young man, I tried Europe, but the woman I was meeting, on our second day in Paris, said she needed time alone, and then went off to Barcelona with somebody else. For three days I walked to the Hôtel de Ville for reasons too stupid to admit and read an omnibus edition of Dashiell Hammett. I’d never been lied to like that, and I took my pain to mean I lacked Continental sophistication, and Paris sort of died inside me.
He then talks about how he loved hopping freight trains. Romantic stuff.